Your 12-Step Guide to crossing the Thai/Cambodia border

One of the many spectacles along the way. They were all wearing veils? Don’t ask me why.

If you google “Crossing the Thai/Cambodia border” you, like me,  will probably start to feel a sense of fear. In my preparation to visit the tiny country of Cambodia, I did some research trying to figure out transportation, where I should stay, the visa situation, and more. The articles, warnings, and well-meaning “tips” scared the crap out of me!

Almost every testimonial, travel-blog, and forum warned of scams, corruption, general danger, and the overwhelming poverty that greets you at the Immigration Office. Many of these opinions provide prevention advice, which I was keen to follow. In general, if you have common sense, you’ll be just fine.

Some notes about crossing the border:

  • If you carry an African passport (Ghana, Cameroon, etc.) or even have dark skin, you may not be allowed to go to Cambodia via land. I heard this from the owner of a mini-bus transportation company, and it although possibly just a rumor, it astonished me. According to him, blatant racism is practiced by Cambodian Immigration, so MAKE SURE you and/or your African friends look into this before trying to cross the border via land.
  • You never have to give money to the police. On my way back into Thailand, I did notice that certain travelers would pay the police officer 200B in order to get through the line faster. FYI for rich people in a hurry I guess.
  • There are some (friendly) men walking around with badges on. They direct you to the next line, the next building, etc.. They are trustworthy, but are not needed, as you can almost always see where you’re supposed to go. If you let these men guide you, that’s totally cool, just know that they will probably ask you for a tip as you’re getting into your cab ready to leave Poipet.
  • Pay attention to border hours!! The border opens at 7:00am and closes at 8:00pm. Assume it takes 2 hours to cross so you don’t get caught at the weirdly nice casino/resort/hotel between the two borders.
  • Chill. Waiting in lines is stressful enough – getting impatient or angry won’t make the process go any faster.

None of what I say is intended to scare you, and is all from experience! Here’s my 11-step guide to get (safely) from Bangkok to your hostel in Siem Reap, home to the Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Getting to another city can be done in a similar fashion. 

In advance: Get the proper currency (US dollars are the most widely accepted in Cambodia), book your hostel, check the border hours, and grab snacks/water to bring with you. It’s just common sense.

1) Take metro transit (bus, BTS, MRT) to Victory Monument. Right under the highway overpass there are several bus companies, only one or two of which go to Cambodia.

2) Tell the dude manning the desk where you’d like to go. The name of the border-city is Poipet, but if you communicate that you just need to get to the Cambodian border they’ll understand. You should pay around 230B for your ticket. They’ll give you a receipt – keep it for future reference. On the way back, many bus companies will try to charge you 300B for the same route. You can talk them down to 250B, or try and find the exact same company you took from Bangkok, who will give you the 230B price.

3) The man who sold you the ticket will lead you to a mini-bus parked in the parking lot. You will wait until they have enough passengers to leave – this usually isn’t more than 30-45 minutes. There’s plenty of food/drink stands nearby, so feel free to grab a snack while you’re waiting. I’d recommend leaving some personal item in the seat you want so no one claims it while you’re snackin’.

4) The bus will leave from Bangkok, and should take about 4 hours to get to the border. The bus should stop about once towards the middle of the journey to give you a bathroom/food break. Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer!

Crosssing the Border

Things you’ll NEED: Passport photo, a pen, US Dollars (At least $32, I’ll explain below), and 100B (optional).

5) You’ll get off the bus. Immediately, a man may approach you directing you toward the visa/immigration office. Tell him “no thank you” and walk to your right, towards the blue “Passport/Border Pass” signs. Those blue, official looking signs are actually correct and you can trust them.

6) Pull out your passport! Make sure your Thai departure card is filled out completely (it should be stapled to your passport). Get in the “foreigner passport” line, wait your turn, and those documents should get you easily through the Thai border police.*

*Check your passport to make sure that the Thai side stamped your passport with the “exit” triangle-shaped stamp. I wish I was joking but they forgot to stamp mine.

7) Walk straight out of that office, follow the general flow of pedestrians through a gated walkway, past the Quarantine tent (hhhwhat..?) and then head for the fancy-looking square building on the opposite side of the street (to your right.) It says “Visa Upon Entry” above the front door. You’ll see all the white people waiting in line…it’s pretty hard to miss.

8) Fill out the Cambodian form that they’ll hand you when you walk in the door. You will need a extra passport photo to attach to the form, but if you forget one you can pay an extra $5 and they’ll photocopy the picture from your passport. Hand the form, your passport, and $20 to the border police standing at the window*.

*Corruption optional: They have a janky paper sign on the desk that says “$20 + 100B,” meaning that they want you to pay an extra 100B. This is obviously illegal, and you can refuse to pay the extra cash. If you do, you will end up waiting longer for your visa. I’d guess about 30 minutes or so. I just paid the 100B ($3) and got my visa in about 5 minutes.

9) Walk out of that building and get in line (again, to your right). You’ll give them your passport/visa, a filled out Cambodian Arrival form (they’ll hand it to you), and they’ll take your fingerprints via a digital machine.

10) From that building, you’re spit out into a waiting area where you’ll board a free shuttle bus going to the taxi area. At that building, you get the options to rent a taxi, buy a mini-bus ticket, and exchange your money. DO NOT exchange money – terrible rates. DO NOT take the mini-bus – it will likely take random stops on the way and you will arrive in Siem Reap way later than intended. Get the taxi. Team up with other travelers to share the cost- the max is 4 people/taxi. Renting a cab to Siem Reap will then cost $48, split four ways (thus the need for $32 – visa + cab).

11) Make sure you communicate correctly the name of your hostel, and that you already have a room booked. If you rent a private cab, they will probably switch you to a tuk-tuk once you get into town, and that tuk-tuk will take you to your hostel. If you tell them that you already have a reservation, they will not pressure you into staying at another, overpriced, out-of-the-way hostel (a common problem noted on travel forums).

Boom! Safe and sound at your more-than-welcoming hostel. I’ll post about our hostel – as well as our Cambodia adventures – soon. Siem Reap was a blast! Good luck and feel free to comment if you have any questions!